“‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la la la…” Or not. For a lot of people, Christmas is not the time of greatest joy but of the greatest anxiety, stress and depression. Obnoxious jumpers, the Christmas morning present stack and a kiss under the mistletoe are dreaded rather than anticipated. Does the festive season give you an overwhelming urge to close your eyes, take a deep breath and teleport to New Year’s Eve? Here’s a quick guide to surviving Christmas.

Be prepared

You may delay your Christmas shopping until Panic Saturday, but don’t leave your emotional preparations that late. Stock up on whatever gets you through the dark night of Christmas. If art therapy is your thing, treat yourself to new pens, paper and glitter. Whatever your emotional toolkit contains, make sure it’s topped up and close at hand before the Christmas carnage starts. If you suffer from anxiety, read up on simple wellbeing techniques like 5 Tools for solving personal crises and 7 Steps to calm anxiety.

Avoid toxic situations

Christmas is a time of great family expectation. Traditions must be maintained. “Oh, but we always go to Uncle Richard’s on Boxing Day.” Never mind that when Uncle Richard gets soused he hugs and kisses you inappropriately, or that bitter and twisted Aunt Maud finds fault with you every year. So say ‘no’. Go on, do it. Feel the power of the word, the lovely roundedness of the closing vowel as you utter it and a stupefied look spreads across their overstuffed faces.

Find a friendly chimney

Do you have a friend whose family is more welcoming than your own? I used to visit a friend’s family every Christmas Day. It wasn’t that my own was particularly toxic; it just felt depressing and claustrophobic. Both of my friend’s parents passed away in the last year or so. I know I’m going to feel that loss this Christmas.

Put your foot down

If there is someone toxic in your Christmas rounds that you can’t avoid—perhaps if they come to your house—then be prepared to put your foot down. Remember, all dysfunctional behaviour—whether it’s emotional bullying, inappropriate touching or whatever—stems from disempowerment. Such people may seem strong but they’re actually flat-track bullies. Stand up to them and they will recoil amid a barrage of innocent protestations while half-chewed flecks of mince pie splutter from their lips. But if you’re simply demanding appropriate boundaries, they will not dare contradict you for to do so would expose them to accountability.

Think of others

Christmas is a hard time to be alone—harder even than Valentine’s Day. It can be very painful sitting there, watching a happy couple over-indulging each other with naff presents and showering each other with slobbery kisses while you ponder the past year’s loneliness and another year as a singleton looms into view. Anyone else you know who is single and lonely? Hook up with them. Or volunteer for a charity that feeds the homeless. You will be busy, you’ll make new friends, you’ll have a blast, and you’ll be helping others—while avoiding your own family’s poisonous Christmas dinner in a way that gives them no comebacks.

Think of yourself

When my father was a child, his family used to gather for a Christmas feast. And, every year, just as dinner was about to be served, there was a great-aunt who used to proclaim that this was her last Christmas on Earth before swooning in tears. By the time the Epsom salts had been administered and she was restored to normal working order, the dinner was cold. Every year. No one lamented her passing when she finally lived (well, died) up to her word. That’s not what I mean when I say ‘think of yourself’. Value yourself. Identify potential pitfalls and plan around them. The happier those who truly care for you will be, and the happier you will be.

This Christmas, give yourself the gift of emotional self-care.

Image: one-sixty-six/three-sixty-five by Laura LaRose on Flickr. Cropped to 16:9.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.